As we reported in January of 2008, balancing cyclist safety with transit accessibility is becoming a key issue that will determine the likely success or failure of various design proposals for the 2009-10 reconstruction of Roncesvalles. A widened sidewalk bumpout would allow riders to board the streetcar directly from the curb, but such a design would leave little room for cyclists, who would certainly get caught in the rails (as Seattle cyclists have discovered). An alternative would be to leave more space between the sidewalk and the tracks, but then disabled riders would have to step off the sidewalk and then step back up into the streetcar.
At a public meeting on March 24, the City and TTC presented a preliminary design concept that combines these two approaches. The idea is this: at a TTC stop, a bike lane would gently rise up from the main road to meet the level of the widened sidewalk and run alongside. When the streetcar is boarding, cyclists would stop and allow riders on and off. The transit riders would board directly onto the streetcar from the raised roadway, and would only have to cross a bike lane as opposed to a full traffic lane.
Because the concept is merely preliminary, the TTC and City were unable to provide decent photos or drawings to illustrate what these raised bikes lanes might look like. This was unfortunate, since the prospect of a pathway rising up from the road was alarming to some people who imagined cars popping side-wheelies on a stunt ramp. And once such visions take hold, mere words are insufficient to dislodge them. As a result, a potential solution to two important transportation problems was not given a proper hearing.
Toronto motorists actually have a lot of experience with raised pathways on the street. These pathways are called sidewalks, and motorists can drive right alongside them very nicely, without bumping against the raised edges or going airborne. And though the sidewalk sometimes lies at the same level as the road (at corner intersections for example – see photo, right), people can easily tell them apart. Even a small child knows where she must stop, and look both ways before crossing the street.
So why were so many folks alarmed at the mere idea of a separate raised pathway for cyclists? Along with the lack of illustrations, perhaps it was the poor choice of naming these pathways “transit platforms.” To most people, a transit platform is where people wait for a streetcar. And so it was understandable that people would wonder how cyclists were supposed to weave safety through a crowd of passengers waiting for the 504. And regrettably, it must be said that the City and TTC did a poor job at clarifying themselves.
But these are not transit platforms at all. They are not extensions of the sidewalk and they are not waiting areas. They are roadways. But unlike the car lanes that transit riders must currently cross to board, these roadways are used only by cyclists, and they are raised to improve accessibility for disabled passengers. The City and TTC must make this clear immediately.
Whether this concept will actually work remains to be seen. There are many questions to answer, such as how snow will be removed from these lanes, or how the City will blend the raised portion with the main road safely and coherently. The public will get these answers, and will have a chance to study the concept in detail during the formal design and consultation phase, expected to begin in the late summer.
How would you balance streetcar accessibility with cycling safety? Please leave a comment, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know!